Newborn babies are have a difficult time regulating their own body’s temperature. As a result, one of the biggest problems in the developing world among infants is hypothermia. Room temperature for newborn babies actually feels freezing cold. Low weight and premature babies are most susceptible to hypothermia; 4 million die from hypothermia each year. Those that do survive most often develop long-term health problems such as heart disease, low IQ, and the onset of diabetes.
The key to keeping premature and low-birth-weight infants alive and healthy is to keep them in a warm environment with a stable temperature. In developing countries, however, incubators are only available in urban centers and the cost of incubating a baby can be as high as $20,000. The Embrace is an affordable alternative to the high-tech incubator for the vast majority of the world’s population. The Embrace looks like a miniature sleeping bag and is designed to keep a warm and constant temperature in four-hour long periods for babies, thereby improving a baby’s chance of survival during this vulnerable stage of life.
The Origins of the Embrace
Linus Liang, co-founder of Embrace, conceptualized the product while studying at Stanford. He went to Nepal to research neonatal morality. At first, he stayed in urban areas to talk to doctors and nurses. He noticed that the hospital contained a number of high end incubators, which were empty. When he asked the doctor why the incubators had no babies, the doctor replied that the problem was getting people to the hospital. At that moment Linus realized that the real problem was infant mortality rural areas.
In rural Nepal, Linus observed how people struggled desperately to keep their babies warm. Some parents first warmed blankets in the oven and then place the heated blankets on top of their baby. In some cases, parents use light bulbs. However, these methods failed to provide the constant temperature that the babies need to survive.
Upon his return from Nepal, Linus and his team set about designing a solution that would work within the constraints of rural areas – something that didn’t need electricity, was portable, durable, easy to use, and most importantly, inexpensive. They found the answer in old technologymade by MIT: phase change materials that were originally used to incubate vaccines.
How Embrace Works
Phase change material is a substance with a high heat of fusion, which, melting and solidifying at a certain temperature, is capable of storing and releasing large amounts of energy. Heat is absorbed or released when the material changes from solid to liquid and vice versa. The material acts as a latent heat storage device, and is able to maintain heat at a constant temperature over the course of a few hours.
The Embrace is a small sleeping bag that contains a heating unit that warms up when hot water is poured into it. The heating unit then goes into a phase change pouch which gets placed with the infant into the sleeping bag. Because the Embrace maintains a constant temperature for four hours, it provides sufficient time for rural mothers to bring their babies to a hospital incubator. Another great feature is that the Embrace is designed to be reusable.
While there is enormous commercial potential for the Embrace the organization has opted to stay non-profit in order to realize their social missino and give every chance at life.